By Patrick Cooley, Sports Editor
After 63 storied years, the UNO wrestling program has said its final goodbyes.
Former UNO Head Coach Mike Denney, his staff and wrestlers hosted a night of remembrance Friday at Sapp Fieldhouse. Alumni and supporters gathered to celebrate the program’s success on and off the mat.
“You just felt a kind of power in there,” Denney said. “A team power – you felt it. So many different alums from different years felt so close.”
Denney said he wanted to give his wrestlers a chance to celebrate, while congratulating the program on a job well done.
“I wanted to tell my guys, ‘well done, well done,'” he said. “I wanted to make sure this year’s team got recognized. They didn’t even get a chance to celebrate [their national championship]. I wanted to make sure we recognized them. We had to do it ourselves because this athletic department wasn’t going to do it. We wanted the wrestlers to know that they do have value.”
Denney and his team spent two days transforming the Sapp Fieldhouse in preparation for the night. Photos of former wrestlers were hung on the walls and many former athletes got a chance to say their farewells to the audience.
“I wanted it to be a celebration,” Denney said. “A time to say, ‘Well done. You’ve fought the good fight, finished the race.’ We had each alum come out of the tunnel. They gave their names, the years they wrestled and left something in the middle of the mat.”
The wrestling program learned of the University’s plans to eliminate it hours after it won its third straight national championship in Kearney on March 12. Denney said that decision weighed heavy on the hearts of those gathered at the Sapp Fieldhouse.
“There was a lot of emotion in there,” he said. “We had a lot of wrestlers together that cared a lot about their program and so there’s going to be anger, bitterness and emotion.”
Denney said he wanted his wrestlers to know that many valued what the program has stood for, despite the actions of a handful of decision makers.
“There was a small handful that didn’t value what we’ve done,” he said to the crowd of wrestlers. “But then there’s this large group that thinks what you did has value. Only a small handful really felt like the agenda had more value than all those years.”